By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Jamaica’s crime fighting strategies are bearing fruit; however, some say it comes with a cost, as allegations of police brutality and false arrests still plague the island nation that has in some ways become synonymous with violent crime and drug barons.
Just two weeks after Prime Minister Andrew Holness unveiled his government’s new Violence Prevision Commission, of which he hinted on August 13 during his presentation at the 49th annual general assembly of the Caribbean Broadcasting Union and Public Media Alliance, in Kingston, chatter about the efficacy of the Holness government’s overall crime fighting strategies took a more direct and fevered pitch.
Aside from Holness accusing the opposition of “bad mind” with regard to the progress his government has been making on crime, local reports from on the ground have suggested that false arrests, warrantless and meaningless detentions, in addition to increased levels of police brutality have picked up over the course of the last several months.
These forceful measures coincide with the government’s earlier approaches by imposing area lockdowns in the Montego Bay/St James parish and the St Catherine parish earlier this year.
Added to the pressure of more active police involvement in the community, Police Commissioner Antony Andersen, in speaking to the Jamaica Gleaner, highlighted the lack of a dedicated forensic lab due to the high volume of cases that it is asked to examine.
Deputy Police Commissioner, Selvin Hay, admitted that a dedicated forensic lab just solely for the Jamaican Constabulary Forces would be a tremendous boost to the police force, considering the volume of case work involved, not only in crime but other national and international examinations as well.
The lack of adequate forensic testing and scientific assurances only adds to the pressure on police officers to stay aggressive and use rudimentary and, in some instances, draconian measures to get the results needed.
There is no other time where both “old school” policing and modern day, scientific methods are needed than after last week’s discovery of the charred remains of 14-year-old Yentanya Francis, whose body was found burned after being raped and hacked to death.
Francis’ death has sent shockwaves through Jamaica, as people are now wondering whether or not the government’s crime strategy is really taking effect or is it just smoke and mirrors by the government.
Holness himself made a personal donation of JA$200,000 to the family to assist with funeral expenses and also personally committed an additional JA$100,000 to Jamaica’s “Crime Stop” (the Jamaican crime-tip hotline) for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for Francis’ death.
Despite the horrific murder of Francis, business advocates are praising the progress being made on the crime front by the government.
Backing up earlier claims by Holness, during the months of January up to August 11, murders have declined by 16.8 percent; shootings are down 15.1 percent; aggravated assault has fallen 22 percent, robbery has dropped by 9.4 percent, while break-ins have declined by 7.2 percent.
Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) president, David Wan, described the news as “very positive”, and attributes the decline to the implementation of measures such as the Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) in Denham Town, Kingston, and Mount Salem, St James, and the states of public emergency in the North St Catherine Division and St James, and other security interventions.
Wan says the reduction is also attributable to significant economic activities that are generating jobs and also noted that the widening and upgrading of roadways such as Barbican Road, and improvement work now underway on Hagley Park Road and Constant Spring Road in Kingston, and Mandela Highway in St Catherine, play a part in helping to reduce crime.
Coupled with these, he added are residential and commercial activities, such as business process outsourcing [BPO] developments, including two prominent structures on Half-Way Tree Road.
“Those [types of developments] are contributing to jobs for the construction workers, and the spin-off effects of those enterprises [are resulting in] the people who depend on those workers now having some money to spend and feeling the benefits,” the JEF president said.
Though capital expenditure has doubled from 1.5 percent of GDP in 2014/15 to 3.2 percent of GDP in 2018/19, this is still insufficient to assist in delivering the pace of economic growth desired, said finance minister Dr Nigel Clarke, signalling more increases in capital expenditure within the next budget cycle.
Minister of education, youth and information, Senator Ruel Reid, said that the government of Jamaica is willing to offer full scholarships to young people involved in crime and non-productive activities to enable them to pursue academics or skills training.
Seeing this as a way to assist the government’s overall crime strategies, specifically on the heels of the Violence Prevention Commission announced by the prime minister, Reid said, “A part of my job is to make sure that our children have access to education to the highest level, and we have to work now with our members of Parliament, the ministry of national security and the community to now transition, to change the culture of violence.”
There was a JA$2.7 billion hike in education expenditure for this year’s 2018/2019 budget, bolstering Reid’s claim that finances have been put in place to ensure that the promises by his ministry and government in this regard are met if they continue and deliver on their promises.